Last weekend was the 2014 USA Climbing Divisionals, and Jack was a competitor!
I have been horribly slack about keeping up with posting duties here at Olsson Family Homepage, so a little bit of backstory is probably in order. A couple of years ago, Jack was invited to go rock climbing by a friend. He’d never been before, and we had to sign a waiver to allow him to go (all rock climbing gyms require this, as a precaution). He loved it.
So much so, in fact, that he began asking to go frequently. The gym we found is a fair distance from our house: it’s over off the I-285/I-85 interchange near Chamblee-Tucker road in Doraville, so it’s not a quick trip (though it’s not THAT far, it’s just that those roads, especially I-285, are terrible during rush hour – see the map here if you’re interested). It’s called Stone Summit, and as you can see from the pictures on their website (or the below videos), it’s totally worth the drive. In fact, Stone Summit is America’s largest and best-equipped climbing gym! Who knew we had such a resource right here in our own area? It’s like having Waimea Bay out your window if you’re a surfer.
The neatest thing about Jack becoming so involved in rock climbing is that it’s something he did completely on his own. This isn’t following in Dad’s or Mom’s footsteps: neither Lars nor Beth has climbed a rock in their lives (though Lars did a fair amount of hiking and backpacking when he was younger). Jack developed his love of this sport entirely on his own. And took to it like a fish to water. Before long, he was asking Dad to go at least once a week, and before long Dad had to learn to become certified to belay climbers (so, y’know…if you ever need that particular skill, just ask. 😉 ).
Then, Jack learned there were competitive teams at Stone Summit and in fact at gyms throughout the nation, and nothing would do but that he join one. Again, we didn’t really know about this in the way that, even if you don’t participate in it, most people are aware that there are soccer and baseball youth teams in virtually every community. Rock climbing isn’t nearly as popular as either of those or several other sports, but it’s gaining in popularity, and its fans and team members are very loyal indeed.
One unique thing about rock climbing teams is that they’re not divided by age like most other sports teams for kids are. In baseball or basketball or football, you’re divided into age groups because it wouldn’t be fair to have sixteen year-olds competing against twelve year olds, whether the sport is soccer or basketball. But since rock climbing is a solo sport, they split the teams up by ability and commitment, not age. At competitions, climbers compete against other climbers of the same age (again, due to fairness), but at practices, the top team might have the best climbers for ages anywhere from 8 to 17. It makes for a much more Montessori-like, multi-age environment, something which also suits Jack’s personality well.
After trying out, Jack landed on the Ascent Team. This is the third-highest team, and the one where every new climber (especially the younger ones) start out. You can’t go to a higher team if you’re new to competitive climbing until you’ve been promoted from the Ascent Team. Well…Jack was promoted within a few weeks, because he’d been practicing so much on his own that the coaches could see he should be moved up. Jack is now on the Vertical Team, one below Stone Summit’s top team, the Summit Team.
The Vertical and Summit Teams are the ones from whose members the competitions are usually made up. So far, we’ve already been to competitions at Stone Summit, in Chattanooga, TN and in Jacksonville, FL (told you I’d been slack on writing updates here!). Every year, there is a national competition, just as there’s a Little League World Series. Climbers from gyms all over the country compete locally, then regionally, then Divisionally (a group of states), before the final competition at the national level.
The Jacksonville competition was the Regional competition. Jack went…and, in his first year, placed high enough (sixth) to move on to the Divisional competition, which was this last weekend. That catches you up to the sentence which started this post: Last weekend was the 2014 USA Climbing Divisionals, and Jack was a competitor!
Competitions are tightly regulated and scored. The main gym area where the climbers will be competing is literally shielded from view so none of the competitors can get “beta” (information about how to climb a particular route) by peeking at the routes that are being set up. The day of the competition, climbers are left in “iso”(lation), apart from the competition area, for the same reason. When it is a particular age group’s time to climb, the boys (or girls!) enter with their backs to the wall where the “problems” (specific routes) have been set up. They sit in chairs facing away (again, so they can’t get beta in advance), and each one must do all of the routes set up, in order. For Divisionals, there were four routes Jack’s age group of boys had to do. There were boys there from teams from Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana, Tennessee, Florida — basically, the entire southeast.
Each boy gets four minutes to complete each route (or get as far as he can). Speed is not a factor, and a boy can make as many attempts at each problem as he wants in the four minutes he has allotted. These routes (“problems”) are difficult (as you will see below!). Many boys didn’t finish some or all of them, though all got at least some of the way through all. Some boys either “flashed” the problem (completed it on first try) or “sent” the problem (completed it, but after more than one attempt). Jack didn’t finish any of them, but did get farther than many of his competitors. After the four minutes has expired, there is a four-minute rest period, then the climbers transition to the next problem (30 seconds), and then it’s time for a new four-minute clock on the new problem.
Here’s what an attempt looks like. This was Jack’s first attempt to solve the first problem on his list. You can see him strategizing how he will approach holds and placement of both hands and feet. You start with both hands on the holds in the start box (with tape around it), then move across the other holds to the finish box. Usually, that’s upwards, but – as in this problem – you actually have to go up and then back down to finish — not an easy thing to do at all. Jack makes it about halfway:
Like I said, if there’s time remaining, competitors will try a second, third or even more times – sometimes as many as seven or eight attempts. I didn’t get to record Jack’s subsequent attempts on problem #1, and camera error (OK, operator error, LOL) caused me to miss the second problem altogether. But here’s Jack’s complete, four-minute series of attempts at problem #3 (apologies for the sloppy camera work; this was all hand-held, and I had to keep moving to let other people see, stay out of the judges way, and have an unobstructed view of Jack):
The other kids (and the parents!) are so supportive when each kid is competing. Even though the kids are officially competing against one another, when they’re up there on that wall, the competition is mostly with oneself: can you figure out the way that’s going to allow you to send the problem? Do you have the strength, the agility, the balance? So every other competitor on your team will cheer like crazy for every one of their own that’s currently on the wall, which you can hear in the background on all these videos. Here’s Jack’s full, four-minute series of attempts at problem #4:
The guy in the beginning of this video with the oversized clipboard is a judge. His job is to score the competitors on how many attempts they make (fewer is obviously better), and on how far the competitors get on each attempt. Each judge has a photograph of the route he or she is judging, with the holds numbered. The competitors only know they have to get from the start to the finish, but each hold along the way is secretly numbered on the judge’s photo, and in the case of an incomplete route, they get credit for the highest-number hold they “controlled.”
This day (Saturday the 11th) was the qualifying round. At the end of the day, there were going to be 11 total competitors who got to go on to the finals, and from there, I believe only three would be sent on to the Nationals competition in Boulder, CO, which will have competitors from all over the country. Unfortunately, Jack placed…12th in his age group, meaning he missed returning the next day by only one place. However, he did better (I think, if I remember correctly) than any of the other Male C’s (Jack’s age category on the Stone Summit team). We’re so proud of our boy – all this, in his first year! I know I’m…well…Dad, and therefore biased, but I predict great things for Jack if he keeps this up – which we all think he will: he LOVES it, and that’s the important thing, at the end of the day.
Fantastic job, Jack! You were a hair’s breadth away from competing with the best in the country. You GO, boy!